The Hindu Lit for Life as Day 3 | The Indian govt should not put up statues of Gandhi anywhere: Guha

January 14, 2019 10:49 am | Updated 08:20 pm IST

Venki Ramakrishnan speaks at The Hindu Lit for Life, January 14, 2018

Venki Ramakrishnan speaks at The Hindu Lit for Life, January 14, 2018

Welcome to Day 3 of The Hindu Lit for Life, where yet another delectable menu of literary conversations awaits.

A host of topics - from politics and history to storytelling and travelling - were held today. Have a look at the schedule.

In case you missed what happened on Day 1 , here's our live blog of the same , and from Day 2 .

Here are the updates for today:

6.15 p.m.

Ten Reasons Why Gandhi Still Matters - Ramachandra Guha

Historian and biographer Ramachandra Guha begins speaking about his most recent book. “One of the nice things about teaching at an American university is that you can teach whatever you like.”

“I wrote to my hosts at Berkeley saying I'd like to teach a course titled 'Arguments with Gandhi'. The reply asked if I were sure. I was told that if I taught a course on Gandhi, the only people who would come would be ABCDs (American-born confused Desis), and ABCDEFGs (American-born confused Desis emigrated from Gujarat). It turned out to be a wonderful experience, with students from diverse backgrounds.”

“That experience in Berkeley brought home to me that Gandhi was not just the father of our nation, but a global figure.”

Mr. Guha goes on to list why Gandhi matters — he gave India and the world a means of resisting unjust authority without using force yourselves. Satyagraha was born on a 9/11, he says, referring to the first act of civil disobedience in South Africa in 1906.

Non-violence as civil disobedience was used by many other people including Martin Luther King, he says. The Chipko movement, Mr. Guha says, is a Satyagraha lookalike movement.

The second reason Gandhi matters is that he loved his country and culture, but urged us to look inside ourselves and find our mistakes. He was not a jingoist, says Mr. Guha. We live in a time dominated by jingoists, he says, listing Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan as examples.

The next reason is, he says, is that he refused to define citizenship on the basis of faith. The fourth reason is that, while steeped in Gujarati culture, he was not a narrow-minded regionalist, says Mr. Guha. “Whenever I pass by the Bombay High Court, I say a silent prayer, for that is where Gandhi failed as a lawyer.”

He also says that Gandhi's first newspaper, Indian Opinion , was published in four languages. The fifth reason he matters was that he was both a patriot and an internationalist. His own influences, were as much western as they were Indian, says Mr. Guha. These five aspects were absolutely fundamental in the creation of the modern Indian state, he says.

Nationalism was invented in 19th century Europe. He goes on to describe how British nationalism came about.

The sixth reason Gandhi matters is that he was a precocious environmentalist. He quotes Gandhi: “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialisation after the manner of the west. If an entire nation of 300 millions took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip of the world bare like locusts.”

Gandhi as a young man was a racist, says Mr. Guha. He went to Africa armed with racial perceptions of Indians of the time. But he became a lapsed racist and after his return to India, he became a principled anti-racist. Likewise with caste, says Mr. Guha. He wanted to abolish untouchability, but retain the caste system at first. He had the ability to evolve, grow and mature, which is the seventh reason.

The eighth reason is that was able create leaders out of followers. Many of the people who became his disciples during the freedom movement, became colossal figures in their own right, he says. This is a very rare ability in any sphere of life.  He cites Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Modi as people unable to create a cadre which can lead in its own right.

The ninth reason was his willingness to see the opposing person's view, and reach out to them to seek a middle ground. He speaks of Gandhi's contentious relationship with Churchill.

The last reason was the transparency of his political life, says Mr. Guha. What a contrast this is with the security obsessed lives of political leaders across the world today, he asks.

Gandhi exposed his defects to the whole world, he says. The odd dark thought that he kept for himself, was posthumously exposed.

In response to a question on the Gandhi statue in Ghana, Mr. Guha says the Indian government should not put up statues of Gandhi or anyone anywhere in the world.

4.30 p.m.

The Sublime Cricketer - VVS Laxman in conversation with N. Ram

THG Publishing Private Limited chairman N. Ram welcomes VVS Laxman. Mr. Ram is talking about the biography of VVS Laxman "281 and Beyond".

Mr. Ram says "His 281 at the Eden Gardens is unarguably the best knock ever in Indian cricketing history". Mr. Ram talks about his partnership with Rahul Dravid on that day.

Mr. Ram starts his conversation with VVS Laxman.


VVS Laxman talks about the situation in which he has taken up the profession of cricket. Laxman wants to become a doctor. At 17 Laxman had a tough choice of making a profession for himself.

VVS Laxman briefs about his family and his interest in cricket. Laxman says "I am fortunate to have enough support within my family."

"I didn't play enough matches early in my career", says Laxman.

"I am happy to have two doctorates in my name," says Laxman.

Laxman says "First turning point of my career is in 2000. I have to play consistently to be in the team. The series against Australia was the most memorable turning point of my career."

Mr. Ram asks "You are called a second innings man"

Mr. Laxman replies "Two challenges when you play the second innings. The main challenge is to overcome the condition. I always relish the challenge and succeed in second innings."

Mr. Ram asks You need a pressure to perform?

Absolutely one need pressure to perform well, Laxman replies.

Laxman says "When playing I will try to recollect the 12th chapter of Bhagvad Gita".

Laxman talks about the challenges he faced while playing for Team India.

Asked about some of the superstitions followed by cricketers, Laxman says "I would not call myself as superstitious, but I follow some routines while playing."

Mr. Ram asks about the current Indian team and Virat Kohli. He also asks about Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul.

Laxman says "it is not right to generalise. Being a cricketer in India is very tough. It's tough for an young cricketers to handle so much pressure around them. Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul made a mistake and they will realise it. The managers should give them a proper guidance. The youngsters it's required to mould them. That's the need of the hour. It's also important to teach them and the responsibility lies with the management."

Laxman continues to say "People are watching you as you are their idols. With this experience Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul will become more responsible."

"It's easy to handle failures but handling of success will be tough," says Laxman.

Mr. Ram asks about Anil Kumble controversy.

Laxman replies "No.1 we didn't sacked Anil Kumble. Virat Kohli told that he is not satisfied with Kumble. We thought anil kumble would be ideal."

Laxman continues "We told BCCI Anil Kumble should continue as coach."

"It was the CCI who decided on Ravi Shastri not Virat Kohli," Laxman firmly says.

On match-fixing fiasco, Laxman "ICC, BCCI are taking firm steps to tackle match-fixing fiasco."

A youngster asks "What is your advise for youngsters?"

Laxman says "commitment is most important for an youngster. It is important to work hard on your game. You should be passionate and you should be loving it."

The questions from the audience continues.

Laxman talks about the current Indian team and talks about the structure of the Indian cricket.  Team India is blessed with lot of depth in the batting department.

"167 against Australia in perth is very close to me", Laxman says.


3.30 p.m.

The Masala Shakespeare: The worlds of Shakespeare and Indian cinema - An Illustrated lecture

Jonathan Gill Harris speaks about the importance of 'masala' in India.  "Prem Chand, the Hindi writer, is a complex writer. He says that the one ingredient that makes a good story is 'masala' meaning mixture. He wrote for audiences of many languages. Language in India is not a single track.  "

Harris recounts a story of his 'bechari' Hindi teacher who was determined to teach a version of Hindi that was not exactly spoken as it was purged of any traces of Urdu.  He then goes on to narrate an incident where he spoke in pure Hindi in Delhi, which elicited a funny response. "I learned that I have to unlearn the Sanskritised Hindi that I have learnt."

Hindi films have never been ' Hindi' films. The iconic Mother India - the title is in three languages. Masala films are sometimes referred to films during the '70s. Even films like Mother India mixes things up: you have tragedy and comedy. Hindi films mixes songs and dialogues, locations, classes, communities. It has to mix them up as its audiences were always the same.  At this huge theatre, I had to throw out the notion of audience etiquette. Maybe its something about the ambience of the theatre. The audience had a mixture of people from different communities. The film Lagaan was playing. The theatre was mirroring what was happening in the film."


""Mitwa sun Mitwa... yeh dharthi apdi hai..." Even a culture-shocked person like me, was included in that 'apni'.  The Masala film is dying for a multiple reasons. Outside of cinema, mixture is something that people are getting repugnant about.  With the emergence of multiplexes, art house cinema is on the rise. And masala films have become a form of guilty pleasure. The masala films envisioned by Prem Chand is wilting."


"Shakespeare is not if not masala. Shakespeare is something we associate with religious studies, so Shakespeare has become high luterature.  Shakespeare's plays were always written for a mixed audience. This is one reason why, Shakespeare's plays, like Hindi films, involves high prose. There is no tragedy that doesn't contain comedy in it. Even Hamlet himself is something of a jestor. Every performance of a Shakespeare play will finally have a 'nach-gaana' moment. Shakespeare had 'item numbers'. As You Like It is entirely about forests. Hindi cinema is derivative, everything is unoriginal.  "


"We had encountered a lot of Parsi plays which were versions of Shakespeare's works. There has been a long history of connection between Shakespeare and Hindi cinema.  Amar Akbar Antony is entirely Shakespeare. 10 ml Love is a great example of this mixture, which also linguistically establishes the mixture. Its arguable that Hindi films cannot exist without Romeo and Juliet. Here are some examples: Ishaqzaade - a Hindu-Muslim version, Ramleela, Dhadak, Jatt & Juliet. "


"Romeo and Juliet is full of puns. People want things to be clear. But Shakespeare resisted clarity.  Shakespeare couldn't have produced it if he hadn't lived in a multi-lingual society. Love like language refuses boundaries. What can be more masala?"

"Ishaqzaade , a story about a Hindu Romeo and a Muslim Juliet. The film kicks off with Jhalla Walla, an item song.  What is the language of this song? Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, English... it's all in there! Cultures that are exposed to numerous languages are the most punning cultures. Like the opening of Romeo and Juliet, it subliminally lays the scene for the movie. This song sets the scene for a tale of love between a Hindu and a muslim. Not only is India a receptacle of adaptations of Shakespeare, that masala help us retrieve elements of Shakespeare that we might have missed. Hindi cinema is fascinating because it encourages us to cross boundaries. So much so that a playwright from 15th century crosses boundaries and becomes desi A firangi can become desi after all!"


2.30 p.m.


Crisis of Credibility: Fighting Fake News

Pratik Sinha, R Jagannathan, Sanjay Pinto, Sriram Lakshman and Suhasini Haidar in conversation with Harsh Sethi

Pratik Sinha, R Jagannathan, Sanjay Pinto, Sriram Lakshman and Suhasini Haidar in conversation with Harsh Sethi on 'Fighting Fake News'

Pratik Sinha, R Jagannathan, Sanjay Pinto, Sriram Lakshman and Suhasini Haidar in conversation with Harsh Sethi on 'Fighting Fake News'


Pratik Sinha: co-founder of Alt News

R. Jagannathan: Editorial director of Swarajya

Sanjay Pinto: Author, journalist

Sriram Lakshman: USA editor of The Hindu

Suhasini Haider: editor of diplomatic affairs, foreign policy, The Hindu

Harsh Sethi: I'm very uneasy with the word fake news. Back in the days before TV we took it that if it was reported in the newspaper, it has to be true. But in the last 20-30 years I don't think people believe that anymore. We need to take a bit more granted, if the news come from this source, it has to be more reliable. Few of us have the time to sift out what is true and not true.

Sriram Lakshman:  The Washington Post says Trump makes more than a 100 false claims a day on average. Those above 65 tend to share misinformation online more than younger people.  Fake news is a fairly loose term. We need to define what fake news is. We're still trying to find our way through technology.

Pinto: Anonymity and credibility cannot go together. To start a social media account you need no proof of name and address. People can be anonymous and tweet. Social media is a dangerous vehicle for fake news. Social media is making a bonfire of fake news in the country.

Jagannathan: We need to worry about fake narratives as much as fake news itself. 80% of fake news can be sorted out through tech in the next three years.

Sethi: Mainstream newspapers tend to overplay certain kinds of reports.  Are you clearly concocting material? Is this different from propaganda? Those are grey area questions.

Suhasini Haider: I was in Bhutan a few months ago and I asked one of the political leaders one of the main issues before the elections and he said it was fake news. News with a certain bias does not have place in a newspaper. Inadequate sourcing of stories is a problem. Many elements of bad journalism is coming together under the term fake news.  Political establishments put out their messages and the journalist is reduced to the role of postman. Political agenda is attributed to the journalist nowadays. There is a difference between false news and fake news. Social media comes bang on to discredit the journalist. Websites run by political parties regularly put out falsities on the journalist. 

Sinha: Social media is an unregulated media unlike print and TV. In Alt News we fact check stories using certain technological tools. We are unable to reach people who are actually affected by misinformation. In Twitter there is no tool to report false news, unlike facebook. We are trying to come up with software which will be automated and be able to tell you that this picture or story is fake. We are trying to use behavioural surveys to figure out what's going wrong.  

Sriram: Once your views are countered, a cognitive bias takes over.  The more something is shared, the more the 'truthiness'.

Pinto: The problem is those who masquerade as journalists.  With Whatsapp, there is no control. Social media has taken over mainstream media. Who are the biggest beneficiaries of fake news? Saying retweets are not endorsements is very very dicey.

Suhasini: We cannot treat our readers as empty vessels.

Sinha: Political parties are investing more on Whatsapp ground because they know the impact it has.

Audience round:

One politician says something against the other. Why is it news? Why should it be on the front page?

Suhasini: It should be possible to hold political parties accountable just as journalists are. In Bhutan, newspapers publish fake news of the day and specify so to make it clear to the readers.

Sinha: It's unfair to expect political parties to stop putting out propaganda. More media organisations are putting out fact checks.  Everything cannot be fact checked using technology alone, human intervention is necessary.

1:00 pm

Singing Kabir Speaking Kabir: The making of a play Shekhar Sen in conversation with Aruna Sairam

Aruna Sairam and Shekar Sen

Aruna Sairam and Shekar Sen


Carnatic musician Aruna Sairam sets the talk going with Mr. Sen. "What strikes me is your ease in several disciplines of work. Be it music, speech, poetry, directing plays, mono-acting, sets designing.. how did you get to be all this?"

I was my mother's daughter! Every woman is given the boon to do multiple things at one time, laughs Mr. Sen. 

Mr. Sen explains about his childhood which was filled with learning music and various musical instruments.  "People always say that men have always exploited women. If you are a single male boy in a 50-girl-strong class, you can see how difficult it is. My mother encouraged me to learn dance so that it makes me a complete artiste. "  Aruna Sairam comments about her own tryst with dance, only to realise in a young age that she was not cut out for it!

When questioned about his switch to theatre, Mr. Sen said that initially he wanted to get into Hindi film songs composition. "I was also singing in concerts. The Bhakthi movement has given us a wonderful body of literature. When a throat infection due to pollution made him go for treatment, Mr. Sen remembered thinking that pollution exists in minds as well. This made the artiste want to mix music with theatre to give a message. If any actor does not know singing, he cannot be a good actor.

"My language is music." Mr. Sen explains about Kabir, a musical package. He performs from Kabir.  "Lata Mangeshkar is 24 carat gold. Asha Bhonsle is 18 carat gold. it makes for perfect diamond setting. My voice is like copper. It will turn black in 3 days. If you polish it every day, it becomes gold!"

"If you are doing a single-actor play, remembering the lines is the most difficult thing. You have to be very ruthless to your own self. I always count 20 of my mistakes every day. My first play was Tulsi. Second play was Kabir. Every show used to vost me a lot of money. Kabir was my natural choice."

"There are different narratives on Kabir. He is he is against idol worship now there are temples with Kabir's idol. Artistes don't go by the history, we interpret delve deep into the meaning. Portraying saints have made me courageous. If you have your own truth, you shouldn't be afraid of anything neither impose my thoughts on anyone but like to follow my own rules," he elaborates. 

Mr. Sen elaborates an emotional scene, requested by an audience member, sings a couplet from his play. Another member requests him to sing brahmatal, a 28-taal, compisition. "Karu dhyan tora.." Mr. Sen breaks into another song.  Thanks to an audience member, Aruna Sairam and Mr. Sen sings a duet to the delight of audience, "Jaya Krishna Mukunda Murari."

I never take credit for any of my plays; I didn't chose any of the characters, they chose me. I think in Hindi although I speak Bengali, he answers an audience, adding that "people from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or Kerala should come out and portray lives of saints from South India."

"Agar tum ho to ye kyun hain, agar tum ho to ye kyun hain..." he signs off with the song he famously composed for a play on Vivekananda sitting behind Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia.

12:00 noon


Decoding Our Genes - An illustrated lecture Nobel Prize Winner Venki Ramakrishnan

Venki Ramakrishnan explains the topics covered in his book, begins speaking about DNA, something very common and spoken about and discussed everyday.

Everybody thinks they know what's gene but if you probe them further no one will be able to define. They are long molecules, containing information.  Describes different kinds of protein that's essential for various essential functioning.

It was a big deal for a middle class person then to move to U.S., get a scholarship and study. My biggest achievement I guess was that I met ny wife and fell in love, rather than any scientific discovery. Audience erupted in laughter.

Physics is a mature subject and it's quite hard to make any fundamental development in the subject, he further continues.

I Went back to graduate school to get a background on Biology and my father was not entirely happy to hear that his son with a PhD in Physics is in undergrad. 

For the general readers, hope you don't get discouraged by the Science rather even if you skim-through the book, hopefully you get an idea of what I am trying to say.

He goes on explaining about crystallography. "At this point I wanted to further research and study in Europe, particularly in England. And my wife and I have already been influenced by the English literature and music. And Cambridge (University) seems to be the best option as it is a birth place for Molecular biology . Instead of tossing my letter in the bin they gave me an opportunity and I collaborated with Stephen White," he says.

"Scientists are neither Spocks (of the Star Trek) nor saints. We are driven by curiosity. Nobel prize is not for genious. You could just be lucky , it certainly doesn't mean you know things outside of your field or you are genious. So the prizes, that starts form school level itself, is quite corrupt. I am still amazed given by background and history of mine that where I am."

He suggests people to be open minded, says "I always thought I am not that bright. People feeling such, should worry, specially women who are a minority in Science. It's important to talk to people and ask questions," he concludes thanking the audience. Chemistry is a bridging discipline, and the distinctions are blurry and so my award in Chemistry is not a big deal.

"I didn't set out to be multi-disciplinary. I left Physics because I thought I am not good enough or I don't anything much to explore," he replies to an audience.  "Genes is not a blueprint. DNA is more like a recipe, if five people follow the same method not necessarily the result will be same and enhanced. Genes do play an important part but it's not the destiny, " he further elaborates before colcluding.

11:00 am

The Tartan Turban: In Search of Alexander Gardner

John Keay in conversation with Shiv Visvanathan

Mr. Keay begins by thanking the audience says, "this may not be the biggest fest but certainly more challenging and beautifully arranged."  The British historian and journalist describes in details about the traveling expedition. Reads from his book.

You talk all the elements of evil and yet you refuse to judge, asks Mr. Shiv, calling the book a forensic case study.

My attempt here is to authenticate Gardner rather than passing judgement.

The moderator further pushes the speaker to psychoanalysis, calls him a British writer who writes really well. Mr. Keay corrects him saying "I am a Scottish, actually."

Was there a way of personal search, writing this? Mr. Shiv further asks.

"I don't really have any relationship or connection with the British period or anyone British related to that era. This is a Biographical quest and nothing to do with colonialism," speaker says. 

No comment on one of the most violent periods in the history of mankind? How can John Keay make no comment?

Let me explain the genesis of the book. A Sikh publisher approached me waiting to know if I would like to research and write a book and I had initially denied. I wasn't going to take side or go into imperialism. In terms of morality, most explorers are concerned about it but the historians aren't here to judge them.

He was not imperialistic at all. He was very critical of British rule in fact.

Would you like about the Hitler in the same way? Will the real John Keay stand up?

Yes, I would try to be non-judgemental and passionate when writing about him or anyone else.

The moderator instead of the speaker gets a question. One of the audience member comes in rescue of the speaker, "he has been consistent with his writing, why should he be judgemental," says the audience member.

10:30 am

Growing up with Babasaheb Ambedkar: A lived experience

Sushama Deshpande, Urmila Pawar in conversation with Prema Revathi


Prema Revathi begins by remarking that the best thing about Maharashtra is that it is the land of Babasaheb.

Prema Revathi starts with asking Urmila about her first impression of Babasaheb. Urmila says, “Salute to Babasaheb Ambedkar. Because of him, I am here. Power is in Delhi, Money is in Mumbai, Art is in Kolkata, education and knowledge is in Chennai. Forgive me for my broken English! When I was 11 or 12 years old, I first heard Babasaheb’s name upon his death.”

Urmila says, “ I started to read Babasaheb’s biography, his writings and many papers. And I know that they have his thoughts on casteism and women.”

Urmila talks on her experiences, “I thought, why should I not learn? After marriage, I learnt and became an MA.”

Urmila says, “  In meetings, there were many men holding chairperson posts. We thought, why are women not there, talking and expressing their emotions? So we thought we will start a group of women, talking to each other and collect their experiences.”  Urmila Pawar then goes on to talk of her experiences in movements, “ In 1975, woman liberation entered India. I got some experiences of being part of a movement. I started writing my experiences on casteism, women liberation and how even my own husband was opposed me from attending meetings.”

Urmila Pawar on convincing her husband to go for meetings, “ I told my husband, even you have to take care of my children! I am cooking food, take care of my children!”

Sushama Deshpande then talks on Urmila’s work, “ People talk about whether it was necessary for Urmila to write about certain experiences. But she has spoken about them all in a clear and interesting manner.”

Sushama Deshpande offers her opinions on the response to her play, “  The response to the play is fine. But there is a gender issue. A woman directing a play, very few men are interested in organizing the play.”

 Urmila Pawar on the private sector, “ We must fight for reservation in the private sector. The private sectors are for society. And they must exist for people with reservation.”

Urmila Pawar then proceeds to talk about women, “ Babasaheb Ambedkar has given women rights to fight against injustices.”

Sushama Deshpande on the issues of caste stigma, “ You all know Urmila as a writer. But the wounds of caste are very deep.”

Urmila Pawar on ideologies, “ Every ideology, whether it is that of Babasaheb Ambedkar or Mahatma Gandhi- they wanted to uplift people. They wanted people to have self confidence in themselves and change their thinking. However, there is not a lot of support politically.”

10:00 am

Why Can't India and Pakistan Be Friends

Husain Haqqani speaks about India-Pakistan relationship , moderated by Suhasini Haider.

"I really want that to happen. Hopeful that interactions move from YouTube to having and people-to-people ties," Mr. Haqqani said in a reply to a question of an audience member who flew from a different to city to be part of the session.

Everybody who shakes your hand won't be your friend, he says quoting a famous Urdu line. Ms. Suhasini asks, "so are you a pessimist?" To which he replies, "Hope is not a method. One has to come up with a method and  I am not a pessimist rather very hopeful."

9: 30 am

The Hindu Lit for Life strives to be eco-friendly


Let’s face it: for all their well meaning and high brow conversations, most cultural and literary festivals are not the planet’s best friends.  The Hindu  Lit For Life is attempting to change that, taking steps towards becoming a zero-waste festival.

Bring Your Own Bag, Bottle and Bike to get rewarded at the festival venue! Brownie points if you take the public transport.

Zero Waste Lit For Life is a joint effort between the organisers of the festival and city-based NGO Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha.

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